Not Kids’ Stuff

img_0367_4_1Kids may or may not say the darnedest things, and they may or not be all right, but they certainly can inspire some deep thoughts. Three times in about 24 hours, I’ve been hit with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) joys and potential sorrows of parenthood – not bad for someone without kids, who never will have kids, and who, despite writing for children for a living, is sometimes uncomfortable in their presence. But even with all that, I am not immune to the powerful emotions they engender. Or immune to wondering if I am missing out big time.

I saw the movie Tell No One yesterday, and the lead character flashes back to his wedding. The parents of the bride and groom beam, and I thought about all the weddings I’ve been to. All the parents I’ve seen smiling electric smiles or crying tears of joy as their children took that big step. (Then, of course, there were the  times my mother watched me tie the knot and thought, “What is he doing?”) I also thought about all the other moments that give meaning to parents’ lives when their children reach a milestone.

Later in the movie, the protagonist remembers his wife’s cremation. Her parents are there, just as they were at the wedding. And I try to imagine the palpable pain, the hole in the gut, that must erupt when parents experience a child’s death.

Today, I was reading – still – Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. He writes eloquently about the joy his daughters give him. And he suggests that his own mother, an agnostic at best in things religious, found meaning in her life through her work and her kids. I wondered if part of my Crisis – and some of Samantha’s searching for a deeper meaning to life – stems from not having children. When you feel like you’re floundering or doing nothing significant, parenthood must reassure you that you have a role to play in the world, and existential angst is salved for at least a moment.

And for number three: Just minutes ago, at the local coffee shop (all right, it was a Starbucks; I am not pure), a young mother wheeled her son over to the chair next to me. The stroller/chair had an unfortunate appearance: sort of like an electric chair without the straps and metal helmet. The kid, of course, was oblivious to that and most everything else, as mom brought out jarred baby food and some other kind of snack. As she popped in some of the food, waited a second, and popped in some more, he bopped in his chair, as if swinging to the Sinatra tune playing over the store stereo. He was satisfied with life, and mom seemed satisfied with him. I smiled, and thought about all those small moments in child-rearing that bring such smiles to parents. And I wondered how much I was missing about what it means to be human, with no children to raise. Ever.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the frustrations parenting can stir, especially as the kids hit puberty. And a few parents have secretly confided to me that if they had it to do all over, maybe they would have crossed “fertilize egg” off their to-do list. But most of my friends with kids say having them has been the greatest joy in their lives.

I never imagined myself a father. Never. Too neurotic to take on the responsibility, I thought, even as I arrogantly assumed I would be a good parent, damnit, and raise a kid who shared my intellectual curiosity and love of the arts and urge to show compassion. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost all of my long-term relationships have been with women who also thought, for whatever reason, they shouldn’t or didn’t want to have kids. All except one, the one I almost married but didn’t (a tale earlier recounted here). And imagine what hell I would have caused some poor kid if I had married a woman I had no business marrying, and we conceived, and then divorced, as we would have inevitably done. A sad picture, that.

Then there was the kid who almost was. The unborn that my girlfriend – none of the women mentioned above – aborted. The details are not important. Suffice to say, the timing was totally wrong. Abortion made sense. I took her to the clinic, waited while she went through the pain and separation, and silently took her home.  The relationship ended days after. It should have ended before the conception. All in the timing, indeed.

Some Zen Buddhists say we choose our parents, in our cycle of death and rebirth before reaching satori – assuming we do reach it. Some of them also say abortion happens because it was not the right time for that soul to be reborn. A comforting rationalization? Maybe. But I do wonder who that soul was, what he or she might have become, and why we were chosen to play a part in its truncated existence.

The mother had had children before, so she knew the joys of parenting. For me, that was my only encounter with “parenthood.” And so maybe I wonder more than most people who go through abortions, “What if?” But I never doubt that it was the right decision. I do doubt if the decision never to have children was right. But it’s too late to go back on it now. Not physically. Just emotionally.

So I will never know the joys of seeing my pre-toddler groovin’ to Old Blue Eyes. Of seeing my kid graduate, marry, have children, succeed in life. And I’ll thankfully never have to wrestle with the grief, try to make sense out of something so wrong, if tragedy strikes. I have to get my “parenting” fix vicariously, through my nieces and nephews and friends with children. Truthfully, most of the time, that uncomfortable feeling in the presence of kids is fleeting. And I believe with my own kids, if they ever existed, it would never even be a whisper of a reality.

We have an unofficial tradition in my family, of taking a picture of representatives of the four generations often around at the same time. It’s always the women, I guess because we are a female-centric family, and on the whole they live longer then the men. It started with the photo here, with my great-grandmother generations(Grandma Ansaldi), my grandmother (Mom), my mother (Ma), and my sister Cheryl. In the most recent version, my mother is the great-grandmother, Cheryl is the grandma, and my niece and her daughter are the youngest generations. I look at these picture and think, “Families go on.” A really simple, simplistic notion. And yet it’s the heart, in some ways, of our existence. And I will miss out in playing a part in that.

I am trying not to cry.

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~ by mburgan on November 11, 2008.

3 Responses to “Not Kids’ Stuff”

  1. hmm..wonder why it is me and not Pam? and why didn’t those other do the same pics??? well when you come back you can borrow a toddler or a teenager…LOL..the toddler will be easier..

  2. Of course, those of us that did happen to have children wonder what their lives would have been like with more personal freedom! But things work out the way they work out, je suppose. You’ve probably had influence on many children through your books – I found 170 titles searching the Library of Congress. I’m curious – do you ever get any feedback from your audience?

  3. I hope I have some kind of impact, with all those words of mine floating around out there, but the number of comments from students – or adults – is really, discouragingly, slim.

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